Friday, October 21, 2011

New Project: Trident Replacement

(One of the few photos to make Type 45 DDGs - left - at £1bn each look comparatively inexpensive...)

As some of you know, I'm currently sitting on as a juror, meaning that these posts are somewhat erratic. For this, my apologies - we should be done next week. 

However, this is the first post in a new series on the options and legal issues occasioned by the UK's impending decision on whether or not to replace the Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) in June 2015 as part of renewing the UK's nuclear weapons programme. A future UK SSBN would carry the UGM-133 Trident II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), which has been life-extended to their expected out-of-service date of 2042. In short, the (so-called) "UK Nuclear Deterrent"* could easily be assumed to be required and simply treated as a technical and management challenge that just requires the MoD and the defence industry to get on and build the submarines.

As a system, Trident remains impressively reliable, with USS NEVADA conducting the 135th consecutive successful test launch in March 2011, an unmatched reliability record for SLBMs, and one which contrasts vividly with the Russian's on-going problems with the SS-NX-30. Moreover, as a result of the 1962 Polaris Sales Agreement as amended for Trident under Regan and Thatcher in 1982, the UK has a privileged position vis-a-vis the other nuclear states, it does not have to develop an indigenous SLBM delivery system, making UK Trident comparatively cost effective.   

(Not your average SLBM showroom)

Trident is, in the famous words of Sir Humphrey Appleby "the nuclear missile that Harrods would sell you". Perhaps, but as (the ever) hapless Jim Hacker replies, "... it costs £15bn and we don't need it." Allowing for inflation from 1986, this is roughly the discussion that the UK faces today. 

But as much as I revere "Yes, Prime Minister", there are also financial, strategic and legal elements at play in the decision, and this blog will present commentary of them over the next few months. 

*You will never see this blog refer to the UK nuclear weapons programme (UK NWP) as the "UK Nuclear Deterrent" as this implies a value-judgement that has yet to be demonstrated, namely, that someone or something would, but for the existence of the "Deterrent" want to attack the UK, and have therefore been successfully deterred.

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